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Home > 2014 > August Web Exclusives > Preemptive Peace Strikes

I was doing some counseling in a side hall when my radio crackled in my ear, "We need you in the East Hall. A fist fight has broken out." It was Sunday morning "rush hour," that time between services with large crowds both exiting and entering the building. When I arrived I found that two of our greeters had started an argument that had escalated into a fist fight—not exactly something we'd covered in volunteer training. The culprit in the argument was (drum roll please): politics. The greeters were embarrassed. I was embarrassed. Conflict had made yet another visible dent in the church.

Unhealthy conflict

Ministry is conflict. I agree with Westley from the Princess Bride when he tells Buttercup, "Life is pain … Anyone who says differently is selling something." In a typical day, those serving in ministry find themselves struggling with the sins of others, personal temptation, budget woes, selfishness, and even others in ministry. These conflicts can be healthy and life-giving (I think the church could actually use a much larger dose of healthy conflict), but only when they stimulate dialog, encourage creativity, and create positive change. However, the greater percentage of conflict in the church is unhealthy conflict. This kind of conflict destroys our relationships, morale, and effectiveness.

Community is torn apart when people in a church choose sides. Instead of focusing on reaching the lost and building disciples, ministry staff and volunteers find their time and energy sapped by petty arguments and gossip-mongering. What non-believer would be drawn to a church where conflict is palpable? They can find conflict in every other sector of their lives—they come seeking a place of peace, but too often don't find it. If conflict continues unresolved, church members and staff flee and congregations crumble.

Healthy spiritual leadership

There is no way that we can prevent all conflict from happening in ministry, but there are a few key things that we can do to reduce the likelihood of conflict. Once, early in my ministry, I heard a colleague say in a staff meeting, "I'm not sure I should even be on a church staff anymore." I expected to see my shock mirrored in the other's faces. It wasn't. At my old job, saying something like that would be the same as committing vocational suicide. Instead I saw heartfelt concern. Not only that, but we closed the conversation with prayer for this staff member. In this same meeting several people openly disagreed with the senior minister. But wonder of wonders, no laser beams shot out from his eyes. Instead, healthy dialogue took place and then we all went to lunch.

I didn't know it at the time, but I had just seen an illustration of an important factor in preventing conflict. I had seen leaders model healthy spiritual leadership and engage in honest and vulnerable communication. I have also seen healthy spiritual leadership when members of our staff have taught from God's Word transparently using their ...

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Posted: August 11, 2014

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Displaying 1–3 of 3 comments

Mark de Kluyver

August 13, 2014  4:45pm

Have found one of the best things for defusing potentially destructive conflict is humility. If you have done something wrong (or perhaps even perceived as wrong) own it, deal with it and move on. That said make sure that when you do have to take a stand that it is based on scripture. The church does not need wimps in the pulpit but humble people who put God first even if it is unpopular (or doesn't build our ego). Soft hearts, strong minds and a backbone.

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Tim Aagard

August 12, 2014  11:19am

Part 2 - Untried yet clearly revealed way is the “new and living way” in Hebrews 10. Here everyone is equally connected directly to Jesus and equally expected to overflow and “provoke one another to love and good works” and “encourage one another”. This is God’s design for meeting of his people with built in conflict resolution. The connection of everyone directly to Jesus and to each other in every gathering is the key dynamic. This is a paradigm shift from what we all know is normal church but God has the power to transform us into this way of church. We just have to be willing to "throw off the things that hinder and the sin that so easily entangles so we can run the race marked out..."

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Tim Aagard

August 12, 2014  11:14am

“A leader who is not personally engaged with the people in their ministry fosters and breeds the opportunity for unhealthy conflict.” You rightfully point out that mutual relationship connections are the key to conflict resolution. You don’t seem to see at all that the whole system of church is set up for this key factor to be reduced to almost nothing. The key event of church is dominated by one-way communication. No mutuality or relationship there. You start with at least 100 people then move up from there if you are “successful”, but the more people in one room the greater the dilution of the quality of mutual relationship. These 2 assumed priorities are a set up for conflict escalation, and that is what we see. The most common solution is to pacify God’s people as mere attenders and watchers with some meager added “service” like handing out bulletins. The real decisions and thinking are done by a highly select few in closed doors on behalf of the others.

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